Automatic, stimulus-driven attentional capture by objecthood
In three experiments, we investigated whether the mere organization of some elements in the visual field by Gestalt factors into a coherent unit (an object), with no abrupt onset or any other unique transient, could attract attention automatically. Participants viewed a display of nine red and green elements, one of which was the target, and had to identify the target’s color. On some trials, a subset of the elements was grouped by Gestalt factors (collinearity, closure, and symmetry) into an object. The object was task-irrelevant and unpredictive of the target. Performance on trials with an object present in the display was faster than performance on trials with no object for targets in the object area (a benefit) but slower for targets in a nonobject area (a cost). These findings demonstrate that an object by itself can capture attention automatically in a stimulus-driven manner, much as exogenous cues can.